Seven members of one French family are believed to be among the 118 victims of an Air Algerie flight which crashed for reasons unknown in the Sahara desert on Thursday.
The passengers also included ten members and three generations of another extended French family.
The wreckage of the the MD-83 aircraft, owned by Spanish company Swiftair, was located by a column of French troops in northern Mali yesterday. One of the two black box flight recorders was recovered.
“There are, alas, no survivors,” President François Hollande said. “I share the pain of families living through this terrible ordeal.”
Almost half the 112 passengers on the flight from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers were French citizens. Although senior French officials have not ruled out the possibility that the crash was caused by a bomb or a missile fired from the ground, severe storms are believed to be the most likely cause of the accident.
Seven members of a French family of Bukina Faso origin – a father and mother and five children aged from 20 to 7 – are said to have been aboard the plane. There were another 44 French passengers among the 118 people aboard (a revision of the original estimate of 116).
The other victims included six Spanish crew members, 24 people from Burkina Faso, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans and two Luxembourgers. There was one passenger each from Belgium, Cameroun, Egypt, Malia, Romania and Switzerland and three passengers whose nationality has yet to be established.
The aircraft vanished from radar screens in the early hours of Thursday morning 50 minutes into a four hour flight from Ouagadougo to Algiers. The pilots had asked air traffic control to change their route to avoid severe storms climbing to 50,000 feet above the desert.
The region where the crash happened is in a thinly populated area close to the scene of a continuing rebellion by Islamist and Tuareg militants against the Malian government. French forces have been operating in the area for more than 18 months.
Sixty French, 40 Dutch and 20 Malian soldiers from an international peace-keeping force were on their way to the crash scene yesterday. The French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the accident happened 50 kilometres – and six hour by desert track – from the small town of Gossi, which was itself 150 kilometres from the regional capital, Gao. “As you will appreciate, this is going to be a very lengthy operation,” he said.
Earlier, President Hollande said: “There are hypotheses, notably weather-related but we don't rule out anything because we want to know what happened.”
A team from France's Accident Investigation Bureau, backed by gendarmes, has been sent to Mali. Air France planes have been ordered to avoid the area as a precaution until it is proved that a ground-to-air missile was not responsible.
The crash was the third air disaster within a week, including a Malaysia Airlines flight which is believed to have been shot down over eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists last Friday.
French media reports said that the 51 French passengers were a mixture of French citizens of Burkina Faso origin and French aid workers and businessmen based in the former French colony. The Air Algerie night flight, with connections in Algiers to several French and European citizen, was a popular, cheap option for people returning to Europe.